Slimmer Hankins Looking Forward To Big Season

Johnathan Hankins has spent the past few seasons being impressive. He made Ohio State fans take notice with his play last year, he has impressed the new coaching staff with his diligence and work ethic, and NFL draft scouts around the country like what he brings to the table. But the defensive lineman has a simple outlook going into the 2012 season.

Type "Johnathan Hankins draft" into Google and the first link that comes up goes to a projection that the Ohio State defensive tackle will be chosen in the top six in the 2013 NFL draft if he chooses to go pro after his junior season.

That's high praise for a player who arrived in Columbus as a three-star prospect and the No. 48 defensive tackle in the class of 2010.

It's also news to Hankins, who has impressed Ohio State fans, teammates and coaches alike with his size, agility and play-making ability over the past two seasons. Those skills have combined to make Hankins one of the more unique pro prospects to come along in recent years, but the defensive lineman is more of a take-things-as-they-come kind of guy than one looking forward to what might happen next April.

"My goal when I first got here was to win a national championship," he said. "I really want to win a national championship, so probably next year, I think my senior year, we'll have a really good chance of winning it. I honestly think this year we have a good chance to win it, but we can't play in it, so I'm gonna stay here until I win a national championship."

With that in mind, Hankins doesn't have any immediate plans to declare for the draft. He'll just play his junior year and then see what happens.

"If I happen to leave my junior year, if I'm projected to go high or if I'm first overall, a top pick, I'll probably go," he said. "But if not, I'm gonna stay with my teammates and enjoy life at Ohio State."

Enjoying life is something Hankins seems to have figured out. The Detroit native – known as "Big Hank" in perpetuity after arriving in Columbus at above 340 pounds – has a quick smile, a quick wit and a laidback personality.

But on the field, Hankins has a way of making sure he's noticed, and not just because of his size. For someone of his heft, he moves incredibly quickly and was the kind of guy in 2011 who was just as apt to take a good angle and track down a ball carrier on the edge as he was to collapse the pocket.

Those skills allowed him to follow a freshman season in which he had 16 tackles in spot duty with a full-time starting gig in 2011. Hankins finished the year fourth on the team with 67 tackles while adding 11 tackles for loss, three sacks and a fumble recovery.

"I just feel like my talents and how hard I've worked since I've been here has paid off," he said. "I'll continue to work toward the goals that I have and be a leader for my team and help my team win games."

If he wants to get better this year, he'll do it at a lower weight. Hankins played at 330 pounds a year ago but is down to 320 under orders from Urban Meyer. The new head coach has talked a few times about how much he likes Hankins and what he brings to the table, but the coach wants to continue to see Big Hank become slightly less big.

"Before I start pumping his tires too much I still think we have some pounds to go," Meyer said early this spring. "I still saw some giggling there."

Hankins said he's not surprised the new coaching staff has asked him to continue to shed pounds, and he's liking the effect the weight drop – spurred on through workouts with director of football conditioning Mickey Marotti – had on his game this spring.

"Since (the new coaching staff) has been here, they've helped me so much," he said. "I thank Coach Mick so much. I actually feel so good. I wish I could have played at this weight my freshman year, but I'm OK with the weight I'm at now."

His performance at that lower weight has also been noticed by the new members of the coaching staff. Hankins was the first player to be recognized this offseason for his work ethic while graduating from one level in the team's evaluation system to another.

"He has really and truly caught my eye," co-defensive coordinator Everett Withers said. "I'm one of those guys, I look at the inside of the defense out. I think you have to be good inside. I look at a big guy that's athletic and explosive off the ball and I say, 'That's where you start on defense, right there.'

"I just think he's dominating. He's aggressive of the ball. He's hat-in-hand. He's tying up blocks inside. He's being a factor in the inside run game, and I think that's where it starts."

With his new, slimmer body, Hankins looks to add to his game in 2012. Whether that will be enough to earn him the high draft status already being projected by some remains to be seen, but if he can make a highlight show or two this year, that will be fine as well.

"I think I'm going to be able to drop back in coverage a little more if coach will let me," he said. "I think I'll be able to chase down more quarterbacks and probably have some sacks or tackles from behind.

"I hope I get some more picks. I'll probably be like Cam (Heyward) and take one to the house – but not get caught. If I get the pick, y'all will see me running."

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